While taking over an order of some of our sensory products, I was invited look around a new holiday centre on the Isle of Wight recently, The Hartlands hotel. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, there are so many ways that ‘Autism Friendly’ can go horribly wrong, from overly clinical, everything on lockdown, to a total sensory overload, where every other socket has a bubble tube attached to it. The Hartlands hotel is neither of these. It is beautiful, homely, welcoming, calm, serene, but at the same time manages to be safe, practical and full of entertainment whatever your ‘thing’ is.
I’m not a massive fan of going to new places and usually duck out as quick as I can, but after locating the front door (an issue Elaine and Collin were very quick to react to, and plan to sort out) and entering the beautiful hallway, with its pastel colours and fantastic, repetitive herringbone floor tiles I was hooked and stayed for several hours. Elaine and Collin are so welcoming and friendly, and really understand what they are offering. They have a wealth of personal experience which is what makes all the difference.
The music room is full of every type of instrument, trumpets, trombones, pianos, rainsticks, drums you name it, its there. There is a self playing piano, which plays itself by moving the pedals up and down with your feet, giving anyone the opportunity of becoming a musician. The music room has pictures hanging down around the room from the picture rail. Thinking back to when my boy was younger this worried me, I would be worried all the time about him pulling them off the wall. ‘thats fine’ says Elaine. ‘If things get damaged we don’t mind’ and I honestly don’t think they would mind at all. ‘If parents want us to remove things or move things to feel more comfortable then that’s what we will do’
In the sensory room and play area, the ceiling is covered in lights which can be changed colour. Colin and Elaine are really keen to make sure that they fill the area with items that people like to use. There are giant bean bags, rolling tubes, light boards and lots of small items to be picked up and explored. Its a wonderful space to relax or spend energy. The wooden bar area is beautifully tactile, there are different texture everyone to be touched and enjoyed. There is a seating area to sit and chill, the centre has lots of seating areas that provide quite places to relax and chill, all with wonderful textures, tactile materials and calm colours.
The art room has plenty of resources, all carefully selected, the pencils are made from tree bark so they feel amazing to hold. There is kinetic sand to play with, as well as the usual art and craft activities. The games room has plenty to keep people amused, as well as a gym, and sauna. The centre is brimming with rooms to go to and activities to keep families busy.
The swimming pool is divine. Its difficult to capture just how beautiful and relaxing it is in a photograph. There are coloured lights and iridescent tiles on the bottom of the pool, which catch the light and shimmer through the water. Gentle water jets move the water, and the pool is heated properly , with no chemicals in the water making it incredibly relaxing.
The apartments themselves are simply stunning. I was amazed at the size of them. Having been on many self catering holidays with my family over the years I have experienced A LOT of self catering apartments. ‘sleeps 4-6’ usually means ‘ should sleep 4 but we can squeeze another 2 on a sofa bed in a tiny lounge/diner/kitchen’. These apartments are like full size flats. Each bedroom is a full size room, carefully planned, beautifully designed. Each has a full sized bathroom either with bath or shower. You could esily go on holiday with the kids, grandparents and even a carer in tow and have space for all of you.
The kitchens are bigger than my kitchen at home and fully equipped. They have safety features like induction hobs, safety cut off kettles and irons. If a kitchen that can be locked off is needed, they have an apartment for that, if a kitchen that be can used while keeping an eye on the kids is needed, there is an apartment for that. There are washing machines and tumbles dryers. Colin and Elaine know that for some people toileting is difficult, and again this is fully understood and prepared for. Even walls are painted so that they can be scrubbed clean as and when needed. The apartments are planned so that plans can be made regarding door locking, with door alarms available. Apartments with balconies are planned for in terms of safety, and they welcome people to call them and discuss any requirement so that they can make preparations, and advise you on the best apartment for your needs.
Personally I cant wait to go there for a holiday. Hopefully Spectrum Breaks will get on board with Family Fund so that more families can enjoy a holiday with them. I will be going back for another visit with a friend in the next few weeks and can’t wait!